Might as well put this up here, because I said I'd post more game-design stuff, and then didn't D:
Minor comparisons to Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid, but I haven't played FFX and don't find that "skill tree" as easy to understand.
This is less of a "let me convince you to play this game" and more of a "let me explain the systems, so if you don't want to play, you can at least know why this is interesting."
I personally think the FF X Sphere Grid
is way more convoluted than Path of Exile's
In PoE you have paths like...
- dex +10 → dex +10 → dex +10 → 12% attack speed, dex +20
From what I can tell, FF X is more like...
- +agi → +evasion → +atk → new skill: "slow"
Both progressions are related to the skill they culminate in, but FF X's are more tangentially related. PoE has tangential elements to it's crazy skill graph as well, but they come in later.
Also, FFX uses a bunch of swirly-parts to mask how grindy it is. Some of these paths are super long, but they don't look like they take up too many nodes because they're condensed into the swirls. It also has a much of blank nodes, which sucks because that essentially means that you have to put multiple levels into the grid to receive a payoff. In PoE you always get something for each point you invest.
PoE has a bunch of rings as well, but they show concentration in a specific ability, such as mastery of a certain weapon. Each such circle is accompanied by an icon, like a bow for bow mastery, or a singular hand grasping the hilt of a weapon for "extra one-handed damage." Thus, the graphical nature of "going around in a circle" mirrors the mechanical drilling-into-one-thing aspect of focusing on something.
Due to the structure of PoE's layout, you could easily create multiple resolutions of this graph. This would eliminate noise and help players to understand the systems without getting overwhelmed. Make a version where the less important nodes are concealed, showing a straight-line path to the target with a number on it indicating how many points must be invested. Toggling between different graph resolutions would be a great use of interactivity to further understanding of a complex system.
(At least they have a search feature in their online skill graph. Super helpful
Remember that tangential relation I mentioned earlier? PoE showcases that not in the pathway towards a skill, but the way related skills are positioned. FF X bases their arrangement of items on the Sphere Grid around certain characters, each with different archetypes. The position of skills is more about each character's progression, than the progression of skill itself. On the other hand, PoE uses a system of three stats, Strength, Intelligence, and Dexterity, and then builds classes to help guide the player through those stats. Focusing on the systems diminishes the narrative aspect, but allows passive skills to be placed in accordance with their functionality: The more brutal weapons (two-handed sword, club, axe) skew towards the Strength sector; The more technical weapons (dagger, claw) are under the domain of Dexterity; Spells are pulled into the sphere of Intelligence.
This makes clear the weapons and abilities which span domains. The sword lies on the edge of Strength and Dexterity. Dexterity grants it speed and accuracy, improved further when dual wielding. Strength grants it damage and reliance, using dual-wielding to fend off blows.
FF X's Sphere Grid has some of this, of course. But their focus on narrative and the desire to make the progression appear mystical sacrifice clarity of the systems involved.
The major flaw in Path of Exile's elegant display of a rather complex system is that they are forced to have weapon masteries placed multiple times around the graph. If they were clustered in one place, it might have been fairly difficult for some classes to get to the weapon masteries they require. These skills could simply be placed in the center of the graph, but this detracts the feeling of specialization achieved by distancing different weapon skills from each other along the perimeter.